Early Tomato Comparison

After an exciting Garden Writers of America conference, I’m back at the helm.  Needless to say, there has been lots of picking and preserving after a week’s absence, and now the deadheading needs completing but I wanted to get this posted before my feeble brain forgets.  This season, I planted two early varieties of tomatoes:  “Polbig” and “Park’s Season Starter.”  I’ve grown and loved “Park’s Whopper” for years and years, but I’d never noticed “Season Starter” before.  So, I planted 6 plants of each.

Conditions were as identical as possible.  Seeds were started in the same medium, place, temperature, date, etc.  Transplanting was also identical, and the beds they went into on the same date in the potager are aligned, and contain the same soil.  All were watered equally, etc. as well.  Both sets of plants seem equally healthy and are similar in size, and both began blooming within two days of one another, although “Season Starter” bloomed first.

Despite the bloom time, the first “Polbigs” were picked on July 19 (l lb.) and an additional pound on July 23, two pounds on July 24, two pounds on July 25, 1 1/2 lb. on Aug. 2, which is the date I picked the first “Season Starter.”  Finally we could conduct a taste comparison!  Tomato comparison 8-17  As you can see, the tomatoes are relatively the same in size and color.  D is the tomato lover in our family, so I called upon him to do the tasting.  While he thought both were “fine” when pressed for details, he declared that the “Season Starter” had tougher skin and lacked the full flavor of “Polbig,”  which was also slightly sweeter.

The clincher for me, however, is that at this point I’ve harvested 7.5 pounds of fruit from “Polbig” and only 1 pound from “Season Starter.”  There are an additional 28 tomatoes on the “Polbig” plants, and 20 on the “Season Starter” to be harvested as they ripen.  Next year, only the “Polbig” will have a place in my potager for early crop tomatoes.  FYI, “Polbig” seeds came from Pinetree Seeds, and “Park’s Season Starter” were from “Seeds N Such.”

Posted in gardening, harvest, kitchen gardens, Potager, tomatoes, Uncategorized, vegetable gardening | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

July in Review

“Fast and furious” best describes the changing gardens this month.  We’ve had a few hot, humid days that are typical of July here in central Indiana, but for the most part it has been cooler than normal.  Thus, many mornings the potager looks like this: Potager in mist 7-31-17 compressed  A magical hazy mist softens all the edges.  So much has happened this month.  The daylilies came, were glorious, and are quietly departing.  In their place, the black-eyed Susans have pretty much taken over the Deck Garden  Deck garden 7-31-17 compressed  In the background you can see my lovely elder, dark with berry clusters that I have already begun to harvest.  Doesn’t it seem like I was just making elderflower syrup a few days ago?  Time is a blink!  The strawberries are beginning to bear again and the blackberry harvest is in full pick.  Front garden 7-29-17The Front Garden looks different from last month, without the daylilies and tall Oriental lilies, but the ageratum has filled in much of the gaps.  The Lavender Slope looks very different, because the lavender has all been harvested and the plants sheared.  No, I haven’t yet replaced the ones that perished over the winter, but it’s on the list.  Lavender sheared 7-31-17 compressed The lavender bunches are hanging in the Lady Cottage, along with dozens of garlic, shallot, and onion braids that were also harvested this month. Lavender harvest 17 compressed  Last year my total lavender harvest was 5 bunches, this year it increased to 13, so my babies are growing!  Still a far cry from the thousands of bunches we harvested at the farm, but I think I’m glad not to have to work that hard anymore!  In the potager, a whopping 212.5 pounds was harvested in July!  That made room for a lot of succession planting.  Potager succession 7-31-17 compressed  The garlic, shallots and onions created a lot of planting space, but the first two plantings of beans, lots of  lettuces, and the first planting of miniature Gonzales cabbages were also eaten or preserved.  The Royal Burgundy beans won the early contest, with a record 8 pickings before they were finished.  In the space in the two beds lower right in the photo, you can see a row of “Mad Hatter” peppers in the front bed, and a row of Brussel sprouts in the center of the middle bed.  On each side are two seeded rows:  Wando peas on both sides of the bottom bed, carrots on both sides of the other.  In the third bed up, on the right side of the photo are the Park’s “Season Starter” tomatoes.  More on the tomato comparison in another upcoming post.  Left of that bed, where garlic came out is now winter squash.  It’s amazing how much they have growin in just two weeks.  They were just baby plants when I set them in and now they already have baby squash forming!Winter squash 7-31-17 compressed  The “Red Candlesticks” okra seed I got at the Garden Writers’ Regional meeting on June 22nd germinated quickly and the plants are now 10″ tall and forming buds.  Okra Red Candlesticks 7-31-17 compressed  I hope it is more tender than the “Jambalaya” variety I’ve been harvesting, which is tough and stringy at barely 3″.  Two inch pods hardly seem worth the trouble of harvesting but that’s what it takes to be tender.  The celery is looking great Celery 7-31-17 compressed  I think it likes the well-above average rainfall we’ve had in July.  The peppers are changing daily, and I’ve already canned sweet red cherry and pepperoncini.  The “New Ace” are beginning to turn red now New Ace pepper 7-31-17 compressed and the Italian paprika peppers look terrific.  I’m really happy with the “Golden Anniversary” agastache, and the butterflies love it, too.  Gold agastache compressed 7-17  It really brightens up the potager interior border.  And the new Cutting Garden is producing bouquets.  Cutting Garden 7-31-17 compressed  More on that in another post as well.  So that’s July!  I expect August will produce more poundage, because the heavyweights like tomatoes will be coming on in full force.  I just hope August goes a bit more slowly than July did!


Posted in cutting garden, gardening, harvest, kitchen gardens, monthly review, Potager, succession planting, Uncategorized, vegetable gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Six on Saturday July 29

The gardens are changing fast as the daylilies fade away, but there are still things that bring a smile today.  This late, double-flowered soft peach daylily is becoming one of my favorites.  Daylily Dbl pink compressed  The bounty from the potager increases daily.   Starting page 6 of my harvest log this week certainly made me smile:Harvest journal 7-29-17  The pounds are adding up quickly, well over 200 already.  A heavy item, this mini-melon was the first of the season and was delicious combined with freshly picked strawberries and blackberries.  Berries & melon 7-29-17 Here’s Friday’s harvest: 4 kinds of tomatoes, 3 varieties of peppers, two mini melons, some cukes and a Ronde d’Nice squash.  (Goes nicely to the 12 Days of Xmas tune!)  I’d picked all the beans and beets canned them on Thursday.  I also canned all the cipollini onions earlier in the week.  One day's harvest 7-29-17 Isn’t that worth a smile?  And, I picked the first bouquet from the new Cutting Garden, which was just planted the end of June, so that’s making me happy.  You know how hard it was for me to cut flowers from the “real” gardens but I have no qualms about cutting from the Cutting Garden out back.  CG first bouquet compressed  However, there was someone else merrily cutting flowers in the Cutting Garden as well.  No arrests yet, but I took this photo for evidence.  Definitely no smiles for this oneGomp critter cut compressed  And that’s six things for this Saturday.  Thanks to The Propagator for suggesting this meme.  It does spur me into taking time to photograph!

Posted in cutting garden, harvest, Harvest Journal, Potager, Six on Saturday, Uncategorized, vegetable gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Gotta love those annuals!

I’ve been away for a bit to eastern Ohio and then immediately on to Wisconsin, so I’ve been playing catch-up with the produce rather than writing since our return.  Immediately upon turning into the driveway, it was obvious that the gardens had changed while I was traveling.  Since those first warm days of spring, the reliable perennials have been carrying the load.  Of course none of them stay on the stage very long.  Most of them have short, but memorable performances and coming one right after another or sometimes overlapping to form an ensemble, they are deserving of applause.  When I left, the daylilies were stealing the show with a strong chorus of colors, heights and forms.  Now the annuals are the star attractions, and I am so thankful for them.

While most people are planting more perennials, I still count on my annuals to carry the show, especially from now until frost (usually early October.)  Oh, they’ve been contributing a lot already as bit players here and there as the perennials had the spotlight, polishing up their acts, gaining in volume and gradually getting bigger parts but now they are the headliners.  They will deserve that top billing and attention for weeks and weeks to come (as long as I keep them deadheaded!)  Here are the stars of the current show: Zinna Prof Dbl compressed Zinnia “Profusion Double Click Deep Salmon.”  These are much, much prettier than my photo.  The leaves weren’t blue when I compressed it!  They are really workhorses in my garden, blooming from May to frost with very little care.  They are almost self-cleaning, so require very little deadheading on my part.  I use them at the front of the border, as they get about 10-12″ tall and form graceful, fully filled mounds.  They come in a variety of colors and are easy from seed.  Next are my beloved snapdragons.  I’ve praised these “Liberty Bronze” snaps before, but they deserve even more!Snap Liberty bronze compressed  This year, with cooler temperatures and abundant rain, they have continued putting on a show since I planted them in late April.  The Liberty series has nearly every color in the rainbow, and are very easy from seed, but start them early (late January for me) for opening acts.  Our current weather has also been good for the nasturtiums, violas and calendulas, all of which areNast Tip Top Apricot compressed everyday bloomers in the potager.  I decided to add bits of blue here and there in the garden, blue being a partner across the color wheel for orange.  I chose this tall “Blue Horizon” ageratum, and it has been a wonder, blooming early and long.  It really is blue-blue, not purplish and makes a great cut flower.  Ageratum tall blue compressed  Just coming onto the stage, and still playing a supporting role is the self-seeded cleome, “Helen Campbell.”  Cleome compressed  As it gets taller and more abundant, cleome will be getting a larger role.  The same applies to the tall zinnias, which are just getting off to a good start.  Zinnia Inca compressed  Before you get the wrong impression, I must add that all annuals are not as talented as those I’ve shown so far.  I was very disappointed in Zinnia “Decor” which was supposed to be a blend of orange zinnias and lime-green zinnias.  Most of them were (horror of horrors!) like thisZinnia tall pink compressed  so they were cut from the act!!!  So were many of the “Pixie Sunshine” which were supposed to be dwarf (they were) and a mixture of white, yellow, and orange but in reality were magenta, red, or (gasp!) Zinnias pink compressed  another horrible pink!  Having failed their audition, I won’t be growing either of those again.  And also disappointing has been the “Perfume Lime” nicotiana which looked good early on, but seems to be getting very tired as the season progresses.  Nicotiana lime compressed  To get star billing in my garden, a plant must have endurance as well as beauty.  So, I’ll be scouring the seed catalogs over the winter, searching for some new talent.  Maybe I’ll find some at the upcoming Garden Writers’ annual conference, a great for talent scouts like me!

Posted in annuals, flowers, gardening, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

But if you deadhead…..

After expounding upon the merits of deadheading in a recent post, it occurs to me that I need to also present another side of the issue.  Deadheading does produce more flowers overall, and does keep the plants and the gardens looking tidier and fresher, but there is one thing deadheading does not produce….SEEDS!  Yes, if you deadhead every flower as it fades, then there will be no seeds.  With many plants this is not a problem, because if they are hybrids, they won’t come true from seed anyway.  If there are more than one variety of peppers, or tomatoes, or squash, or zinnias or daylilies blooming at the same time, they won’t come true to variety either, but will be cross-pollinated and produce seeds that produce mystery varieties.  Often gardeners complain that after growing only one heirloom variety of tomato so they could save the seed, the harvest from those seeds the following year doesn’t resemble the original at all.  If one has neighbors within a bee’s flying distance, who might be growing a different variety of tomato, then very likely the tomatoes will be cross-pollinated and create a mixed result.  It’s not easy to save seed if you have near neighbors who grow similar crops, but not the exact same varieties.

So, I hear you asking….”What’s her point?  Isn’t she still arguing for deadheading?” My response is “Yes, but….!”  Overall, deadheading is the rule in my gardens, but with a few exceptions.  The first plant that is not always deadheaded is the lovely nasturtium.Nast Tip Top Apricot compressed  I grow lots of nasturtiums in various shades of apricot, orange and yellow.  They are just too gorgeous and reliable not to have in abundance in the potager.  I love to stuff their blossoms with a cheese mixture for a colorful appetizer, or make confetti of the petals to sprinkle over canapes.  (For recipes using nasturtiums, go to my website http://www.caroleesherbfarm.com and use the search feature.)  The flowers make a wonderful, flavorful herbal vinegar, and the flowers and leaves can be added to salads.  I do deadhead them periodically so they keep flowering all summer, but I skip a few plants so I can harvest these:  Nasturtium seeds compressed  Beautiful, crunchy, peppery nasturtium seeds that can be added to salads, marinades, stir fry, or pickled as a caper substitute.  One of my favorite recipes is this chicken dish with potatoes and nasturtium seeds, a one-skillet wonder that is quick and easy.  Chicken with potatoes & nasturtium seeds compressed Simply heat a bit of olive oil in a cast iron (or other oven safe) skillet.  Add 6 chicken legs or thighs that you’ve seasoned with salt and pepper, and brown on all sides.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees while chicken browns.  Make a sauce by combining 1/3 c. olive oil, 2 smashed cloves garlic; 2 T. lemon juice; 2 T. coarsely chopped fresh nasturtium seeds; 1/2 tsp. pepper; 1 tsp. salt.  When chicken is browned, add 3-4 medium potatoes, cut into quarters.  Pour the sauce over and place in oven for 30-40 min., until chicken is done.  I wouldn’t want to be without nasturtium seeds, so various plants are rotated in the deadheading schedule.  I also often dry extra seeds to plant next year, and also to use as a pepper substitute.  Another plant that is allowed to produce seeds, and is also sometimes used as a pepper substitute is nigella.  Nigella compressed  Once the flower disappears it is replaced by a striking purple-streaked pod that is filled with black seeds.

Nigella pod compressed  They are welcome to self-seed throughout the potager interior borders, but I always harvest some of the seeds for culinary purposes, and I like the dried pods for winter floral arrangements.  Poppies are also allowed to self-seed in the potager borders, as are dill, calendula, borage, and cilantro because any surplus can easily be removed.   I do deadhead all the violas, which are great self-seeders because I’ve found that the orange ones I want for my edges rarely come back orange, and if I allow them to self-seed then my paths are filled with seedlings that must be removed.  I deadhead chives and garlic chives for the same reason.

In the flower gardens, deadheading is generally the rule until a few weeks before frost.  Then, the last blooms of cleome are allowed to set and drop seed.  I only grow the pristine white “Helen Campbell” variety, so I don’t have to worry about cross-pollinating, and none of my neighbors grow it.  The tall verbena on a stick can also self seed because it seems to always come true.  Because I use a fairly narrow color palette and prefer specific varieties, I’d rather start the other annuals each season with fresh seed, rather than risk ending up with a lot of muddy pinks or magentas.  However, if you want self-seeding annuals like larkspur and bachelor buttons, don’t deadhead all the flowers, but allow some to make seed.  And that, I hope, is the end of that!

Posted in Deadheading, edible flowers, gardening, Potager, seeds, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Six on Saturday-July 15

Alcosa cabbage 6-30-17 compressed  We had more rain this week, and cooler evenings which has made some crops, like savoy “Alcosa” cabbage very happy.  It will be ready to harvest soon.  With even more rain in the forecast, I decided to dig all the garlic after I found one bulb that had started to spoil.  It all went into the greenhouse with a shade cloth over it so the sun wouldn’t spoil the flavors, and once it dried so I could take off the mud, I’ve been braiding it as I have time. Here’s about 1/4 of the braids that are finished.  Once they’ve dried completely, I’ll tighten the twine, trim the tops, and hang them on the drying rack in the Lady Cottage.  Some of the bulbs are as big as my fist so it’s a great crop.   Garlic braids compressed  Having that harvest safely in made me very happy, and also made room in the beds for lots of squash, melon, and pumpkin plants that are loving this damp weather.Bread & Butter pickles compressed  One rainy morning, I canned the first cucumbers as “Bread and Butter” pickles.  They are on the shelf next to the elderflower syrup canned earlier this season.  And a bit later in the week, beans were canned as well.  You can’t tell, but there are three varieties: 4 cans of Royal Burgundy, 2 of Tendergreen, and 1 of Kentucky Pole beans.  It always makes me happy to have a good start on this winter’s food supply.  With peas, broccoli, snow peas, strawberries and black raspberries already in the freezer and the pantry shelves starting to fill, the potager is blessing us with bounty.  Green beans canned compressed  One evening without rain, I actually sat on the deck with wine and a new book to enjoy not only the dramatic colors but the enticing sweet fragrance of this “Sunset Salmon” four o’clock. Four O'Clock Sunset Salmon  It’s in a big planter between two chairs my father made for me years ago.  I recently learned that four o’clocks form a tuber like dahlias that can be dug and overwintered, so I am planning to store some later this autumn.  I definitely want these sweet smelling beauties again!  One afternoon, I decided to attack an especially weedy area near the new cutting garden.  Apparently, I sat in the same spot so long that these two vultures suspected I could be lunch and came in for a closer look! Turkey buzzards compressed  Not yet, Guys!  I’m old, but I’m not buzzard bait yet!  So those are six things that made me smile this week.  Thanks to The Propagator for suggesting this meme.

Posted in gardening, garlic, harvest, Potager, preserving, Six on Saturday, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Flower Shortbread and Deadheading

There are many good reasons to deadhead.  For those of you new to gardening, deadheading is the removal of faded flowers.  The first reason is that it immediately makes a garden look fresher, tidier, and happier.  Here’s a tiny corner of the potager containing violas and calendulas with lots of faded flowers.  See how tired it looks with  those beginning seed pods? Calendula faded compressed

And here it is minutes later, looking refreshed and ready to push all those tiny baby buds into flowers. DSC01465 Deadheading cool weather flowers like violas, nasturtiums and calendulas can encourage them to keep producing bountiful flowers and remain more compact as the weather heats up.  Visitors to my gardens often comment that their violas and pansies gave up weeks ago.  Deadheading is the key to longer production.

The second reason is more important, especially for annuals.  An annual’s sole purpose in life is to propagate.  Once a flower begins to fade, if it was pollinated, the plant immediately begins to spend energy turning that faded flower into a seed capsule.  And, once that plant has successfully produced seed it says, “Hurrah!  My job is finished.  Now I can retire and just enjoy the rest of the summer.”  But, if the faded flower is removed, the plant’s response is, “Wow!  I’d better produce some more flowers!”  The energy that would have been used to produce seed is spent making more flowers.  So, deadheading produces more flowers, especially in annuals.

Perennials have a much smaller bloom period, usually 1-3 weeks and then they are finished until they return next year.  If you don’t deadhead, you’ll have to look at those brown stalks and shriveled flowers until a strong wind blows them away or they turn to mush.  The energy that could have been used to produce stronger root systems and additional flowers next year is put into seed that you probably don’t want anyway.  It may not come true to form, or will fall down around the mother plant and eventually smother her.  The strong seed producers, like black-eyed Susans and coneflowers can soon take over an entire perennial border.

The third reason to deadhead is to keep that mulching chore you worked so hard at early in the season looking good.  A pile of wilted daylily or snapdragon blooms can soon make your lovely mulch almost disappear.  I still remember visiting Kew Gardens very early one morning.  The gardeners were embarassed that I was photographing in the rose garden before they had vacuumed up all the fallen petals.  Sometimes I actually love a drift of fallen petals, but usually what I see is waste.  And that brings me to reason number four.

Those of you who know me well, know that I hate to waste effort or product.  So, when I deadhead roses the petals go into rose water.  Calendula petals get dried for teas or go into oil for salve.  For pansies or violas, I throw the dark colored ones into one basket, the yellow and orange into others.  Then I make “colored flower sugar” by putting equal parts petals and sugar in a food processor.  The result is a beautiful sugar that I can sprinkle on top of buttered toast for Fairy Teas, substitute into sugar cookies, pound cake, etc.  Some of the flowers have a delicate flavor.  Here’s the Flower Shortbread recipe that I always made for “Viola Day” at my old herb farm.  It has become one of the family’s favorites!

Carolee’s Flower Shortbread

In food processor, mix ½ c. dark purple pansy or viola petals (be sure no harmful chemicals or sprays have been used on them).  I usually rinse them and dry between paper towels before I remove the petals from the stems.  Add ½ c. sugar, and process until petals are nearly the size of the sugar crystals.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Measure 1/2 c. purple sugar into a small mixing bowl.  Add ½ c. (1 stick) unsalted butter and cream until light and fluffy. (With yellow petals I often add a bit of lemon zest, with orange petals, a bit of orange zest, etc.)

Add 1 c. all-purpose flour, mixing until dough is formed.  It will be slightly crumbly.  Pour onto a parchment covered baking sheet.  With clean hands, press dough into a 7” square.  With a floured knife, cut into 16 squares.  You may also want to make a design with the tines of a fork on each cookie.   Bake about 30 min, just until they begin to brown.  Cool.

Posted in Deadheading, edible flowers, gardening, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments